Rushdie’s Chennai story in The New Yorker

Salman Rushdie’s story “In the South”  in the current issue of The New Yorker is set in Chennai, in South India. I spent many years in the city, and am disproportionately thrilled to see some of my old haunts–Elliot’s Beach and Besant Nagar (named after the theosophist Annie Besant)–mentioned in the piece.

God, can the man write.

“…the explosion of heat rippling the air, the trumpeting sunlight, the traffic’s tidal surges, the prayer chants in the distance, the cheap film music rising from the floor below, the loud pelvic thrusts of an “item number” dancing across a neighbor’s TV, a child’s cry, a mother’s rebuke, unexplained laughter, scarlet expectorations, bicycles, the newly plaited hair of schoolgirls, the smell of strong sweet coffee, a green wing flashing in a tree.”

I was particularly struck by:

“After his retirement, Senior [one of the protagonists] had been one of a group of ten friends who met every day to discuss politics, chess, poetry, and music at a local Besant Nagar coffeehouse…”

My (now-deceased) grandfather used to hang out in one such group at Besant Nagar after his retirement. This was waaaay prior to the march of the coffeehouses; the old men would sit on the retaining wall at the beach and gossip away. (I doubt they discussed  poetry or chess though.) As a newly-minted teenager, I once came across the group unexpectedly, and I remember feeling somewhat perturbed that the old folks were having such a good time.  Aaaah.

You can read Rushdie’s story  here.

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11 thoughts on “Rushdie’s Chennai story in The New Yorker

  1. Pingback: The Deep Pool » Archive du Blog » Quick scan of the net - salman rushdie

  2. I thought I was the only idiot whose heart is singing today though it is grey and rainy outside. I cried for the tsunami which hit 5 years ago, that is the power of his writing.

  3. Thanks for the link. This story was heart-breakingly sad, and very funny, at the same time. I am from Chennai, and was there when the tsunami (or Death) hit, so it really touched a chord in me. And surely, all of us must have a Senior Maama and Junior Maama in our lives.

  4. @ Pipa: Yes, Rushdie’s prose can be incredibly powerful. When he’s good, he’s awesomely good.

    @ Yehhailife: I’ve always thought Midnight’s Children was unfilmable; this news is kinda…disturbing.

    @ Deepdowne: You’re welcome!

  5. I tried Midnight’s Children but couldn’t get past the magical realism. I just printed this short story to read and see how it is for me.

    I hope the term magical realism doesn’t offend anyone here. Awhile back I was having a bit of a discussion about it on my blog and received an anonymous comment saying how racist I was for using the term magical realism. I don’t know what other term to use. It is widely used in book discussions so it really threw me off guard.

  6. Yeah Niranjana, me too thought Midnight’s Children was unfilmable. If anything, it would only help in degrading the quality of that title or give a very very wrong understanding of Rushdie to the movie buffs who are not into books.

    Teddy, when we read Rushdie for the first time, we tend to approach it the way we are used to with other great authors. What I have felt is that no book of Rushdie is great when taken as a whole; instead it’s a page to page entertainment. If we can take delight in his style, the way he plays with words and ideas, we don’t need to regret. Rushdie himself has told that he stuffs his books with a lot of elements which he doesn’t expect any of his readers to comprehend completely. If you can be happy with whatever you could grasp and enjoy the reading experience without dwelling much on what you missed, you will really like it. This is what Rushdie has in mind.

  7. Pingback: India Economy » Rushdie’s Chennai story in The New Yorker

  8. @ Kamini: Yes, I deduced from your blog that you were a Chennai person 🙂 And as you say, we relate to the characters in this story–not the case with so much of Rushdie’s writing.

  9. @ Teddy: I haven’t seen the original comment on your blog, and don’t know the context, but IMO there is nothing racist or objectionable to the term magical realism as applied to Rushdie (or to Toni Morrison’s Beloved, for that matter).
    Do let me know what you think of “In the South”–it is much more accesible than much of his other work IMO.

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